Monthly Archives: March 2017

Play your game

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It’s March “madness”.  One of my favorite times of the year.  I love watching as many basketball tournament games as possible,  trying to will my team on and enjoying the moments of upset and triumph.  A tournament presents a special challenge to coaches and players alike.  You get very short notice about who you will be playing from one night to the next.  A coach could try to analyze every potential opponent and come up with a game plan for each possible match-up – in some cases this is what they do.  But more often than not the coach will rely on their game.  This is simply trusting in what they do well, and executing their style offense and defense.  In the in-game interview, you often hear the coach give an excuse for the other team’s success by saying, “they got us out of our game” or “they forced us to play their game”.

The writer of Hebrews described this type of mentality as it relates to our walk with Christ.  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2

Christ is calling each of us to throw off or ignore those things that distract us from the goal – a life lived entirely for Christ.  We are called to simply shed whatever entangles us.  It sounds simple, but in reality we find it very difficult. We (myself included) have a skewed priority outlook.  Too often, our walk in Christ is dependent on everything else going on in our life.  In reality, our entire life should be dependent on Christ.  He should be the first thought in every decision, and our perspective should be eternal – with eyes fixed on Jesus.  So why is this so hard?  Why do we let this world throw us off our game?  For me, it’s a pretty simple answer – faith.  I still rely so much on my ability and don’t leave room for God to be God of my life.  I cram so many things into life that have little or no real eternal value.  I give Him the areas that are easy to give up, but I hold on to those areas that I am ashamed of, or that I want to control.  There is a lot of “I” in my life and not nearly enough of Him.  The first step in fixing this is faith.  My faith has to run deep enough that I am willing to give up control of my life.  It is not enough for me to try to do this.  It’s a must.  Christ’s sacrifice demands it.  He has to be first.  If He isn’t, my life will choke him out of the picture.  Too often I identify with the type of person that only gives to God what is comfortable.  That’s not real sacrifice.  That’s not the depth of relationship God is looking for, or demands.  My walk with Christ shouldn’t be so comfortable that a walk without Him wouldn’t look any different.

When a runner lines up at the starting line to run his race, he often takes a few seconds to look down the track.  He doesn’t look left, he doesn’t look right, he looks down the track.  His eye is on the prize.  He knows when the gun fires, he must explode out of the starting block, and focus ahead, straining with all he has to reach the end.  The moment that he allows his focus to shift to the competition on his right or left, he’ll become distracted and that momentary distraction can be all it takes to derail the race.  Jesus is the finish line.  He is the ultimate prize.  His way is perfect and the path he has laid before us has been precisely prepared.  Just as the writer of Hebrews exclaimed, we have one job – eye’s on the prize, that focus will help us put everything into perspective, and will elevate Christ to his rightful place as the complete controller of our lives.  Are you focused on your game or are you distracted by everything around you?

God, I thank you for your wisdom, and your perfection. I thank you for the challenge to give my entire life to you and I commit to a life lived for you first.  I pray that I will be obedient to follow you and keep my eyes focused on you so that I may persevere in my walk with you.  Lead me Lord.  In your name I pray – Amen.

One step away

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“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Galatians 5:16)

The youth ministry that I work with has started a new series focusing on the Fruit of the Spirit.  It has been, like everything else, challenging for me to look deeper at my walk with the Lord.  We went “head on” with the idea of balancing our walk with Christ between legalism and reckless behavior.  Thinking about that balancing act has really “wrecked” me for lack of better words.  I have struggled to find the balance.  What is the balance?  I think the balance is to realize that I will never (at least not on this side of eternity) get complete away from recklessness.  I am a sinful human.  But I can’t just write it off and never try to do anything about it.  I can’t just expect to sin on a daily basis and be alright with it, because it’s out of my control.  I have to work at it – daily.

On the other side of that line is legalism.  Legalism stinks of me.  It’s all about what I am doing to earn favor with the Lord.  What I’m doing to try to make up for the recklessness.  Paul was pretty clear in Romans 3:10 – “As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one;”.  No one can earn the favor of God.  It’s not in us.  We are flawed from the beginning.  While it’s true, I can’t earn favor with God by anything I do, I can please Him by living for Him.  I can please Him by giving Him control.  I need to submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading of my life.  I’m not obeying the Holy Spirit because it’s going to get me “brownie” points, I am obeying the Holy Spirit because I want a close relationship with the one that gave his life for me.  I’m obeying His call to surrender my will, my desires to Him so that He can fill me with the desires that make me what He wants.

So back to the struggle.  Why do I struggle?  It seems pretty simple: listen to the Spirit and guard my heart against recklessness or habitual sinning.  I struggle because I am weak.  I struggle because I am human – and I forget that I am saved.  I struggle because I am a man and it’s inherent that we try to tough things out, go it alone, work for what we have.  I struggle because I lack the discipline to consciously yield to the Spirit while the flesh is on auto-pilot, always seeking a weak moment to strike. I struggle.  It has been a depressing few days as I have stewed over this, but today, through the Holy Spirit and God’s love for me, I have started to see and realize things God’s been teaching me all along.  The song One Step Away by Casting Crowns came up on my playlist earlier, and the words started to sink in.  One of the biggest ways the devil attacks me is through my guilt.  It’s the same cycle.  I fall and sin.  Then I feel guilty and I immediately start to think of how I need to make amends.  This gets me in the “me” train of thought and I start to ignore the holy spirit.  Before I know it, I have tripped up again, and I repeat.  It is the feeling of being chained to an endless cycle.  But these words just resonated in my heart today

So come on home, come on home

One step away from arms wide open
His love has never let you go

You’re not alone, You’re one step away

Lay down, lay down your old chains
Come now, take up your new name

We are blessed because He never leaves us if we have placed our trust in Him.  He is right there, one step away with arms wide open.  He’s just waiting on me to put down the chains that bind me and get back to simply loving Him, taking that one step forward, away from my past, walking in the new life He gave me the moment I trusted Him to save me.  I can find victory because the score is settled.  I can find peace in the leading of the Spirit.

Father, thank you for helping me to see that it’s all about your love and all about surrendering to that love.  The Christian life on this earth is not easy, and I’m pulled in many directions often, but your love for me has always been straight and perfect and your love for me knows no end.  You’re always one step away from me.  Thank you for your perfect love, thank you for the freedom I find in you, and thank you for the peace I have when I surrender to the spirit.  In your name I pray – Amen.

Risk & Reward

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This week, I found myself in a very difficult situation.  I was thrust into a position that required quick decisions and my best effort with an unknown outcome.  By happen chance, or better said, by God’s timing, I ended up on a fire scene with confirmed entrapment.  This is the worst dispatch to hear.  The call was not in my territory, nor would my department be asked to respond, but I felt compelled to go, as I was less than mile away and had my gear with me.  Upon arrival, I found heavy fire showing from the windows and heard law enforcement officers tell me that there was a woman inside the back bedroom.  I made the decision to try to enter the house.  While I had my gear (fire coat, pants, boots, and helmet), I did not have a breathing apparatus. To enter this house, I would have to risk it all.  I opened the back door and immediately faced a heavy fire with intense heat and smoke.  I got as low as I could to the floor, calling out to the person trapped inside – no response was heard.  I could not see anyone near the door and the fire was quickly advancing.  In that moment, I had to make a choice – was the risk worth the reward?  As a firefighter I know, from my earliest training, that being in the toxic environment of a house fire without your breathing equipment can be fatal in seconds.  It is often said, you’ll take your first and last breath if you don’t have the right equipment or if it fails for some reason.  That training rang loud in my ears and I ultimately decided I wouldn’t be able to pull this person from the fire before becoming a victim myself.  I pulled back.  Another saying we live by is risk a little to save a little, risk a lot to save a lot.  This situation had a great risk on the line, but the reward was unknown.  Not being able to see her, or hear her made it an unknown reward.  Was she still alive?  Would I be able to find her in those conditions?  Later, after the call ended, I spent a long time reflecting.  I thought a lot about sacrifice, and couldn’t help think about the ultimate sacrifice by Jesus.

God is calling each one of us to take a risk with a known reward.  [John 3:16] Jesus willingly came to this earth to pay the ultimate sacrifice.  He did this – gave His life, so that we could have a restored relationship with our creator – God.  He paid a penalty that required death for our sins.  His sacrifice gives me the opportunity to have my sins forgiven and forgotten.  So what’s the risk?  The risk is accepting His sacrifice for my sins, and trusting this faith in Him as the only way to receive the eternal reward of Heaven.  Unlike the incident I described in the beginning of this post – where the risk was great and reward unknown, my reward for trusting Christ is certain.  I don’t have to weigh it out and make a decision that has unknown consequences.  I can boldly move forward, not with fear, but with hope.

Read more about the hope found in Christ

So many people today are afraid of the risk.  We are afraid of what God will require of us, afraid that we can’t measure up, or won’t be able to follow through.  We are afraid of losing the life that we know.  For so many people, the risk is too great because they can’t see the reward.  Many of the fears that people have are true.  We can’t measure up to God’s standard, we will fall down along the way, and we will be different from our former self.  The closer we get to Christ the more different we will be in this world.  It is certainly not the easiest road nor the most comfortable.  But we can face this with the certainty of the reward.  God’s promises are real.  He sees us through His son, Jesus Christ.  We can step out in the faith of an eternal reward.  We can step out in the faith of the Holy Spirit that will be with us every step of the way, leading our hearts toward a closer relationship with Christ.  Is the risk of stepping out in faith worth the reward?  The answer is simply an eternal yes!

Father, thank you for taking on the risks of this life and making the ultimate sacrifice for me.  Thank you for making me your reward.  I continue to be in awe of you and your love.  Thank you for giving me a desire to follow you and for a servant’s heart. I am thankful that the risk you ask of me has an eternal reward.  I pray today that my life brings glory to you.  Help me to deny my sinful flesh and instead follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in my life.  May your name be lifted up through all you bless me to do.  In your name I pray – Amen.

 

 

All your heart

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“I love you with all my heart”

Those words roll off the tongue so easily.  I know I have said it to each of my kids thousands of times.  I have said it to my wife.  I have said it to God, on my knees, in fervent prayer.  But what does it look like?  What does it really mean to love with all my heart?  Do I even know what all my heart is?  I started out on a devotional reading today that was speaking about the desire of a father for his children to receive wise counsel from others.  Basically, praying that they would seek out godly friends and mentors that would pour positive truth into their lives.  While reading and thinking about that, I praised God for committed believers that work with my kids, and then started thinking about my commitment to do the same for others, and more importantly my commitment to God.  Thus, God has laid the burden of understanding what commitment looks like to Him.

There are many places in God’s word that speak about doing something with all your heart.  Psalm 119:2,10; Jeremiah 29:13; 2 Chronicles 15:15 all speak about seeking God with all your heart.  Numbers 32:12 – follow God with all your heart, Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Matthew 22:36-38, Love the Lord with all your hearts.  There are many other places.  What all of these verses speak to, in context, is a 100% commitment – no holding anything back.  Within that commitment comes trust.  We have to trust that any outcome that results from this 100% devotion is the right outcome.  So many times, I have committed to the Lord, my entire  life, only to grab the reigns after a few short steps, because I didn’t agree or trust where He was leading me.  God is completely ready and willing to walk alongside us at any moment and lead us in the exact, perfect path through life.  But we have to provide the “action”  We are called to seek him, follow him, obey him, love him, turn to him, trust in him, praise him, serve him, rejoice in him, etc.  All of those contain him.  He is to be the sole affection in our life, and from that love for him, all love for others will flow.    But we have to provide the action.  It’s all part of that commitment to him.  When you commit to something, you are committing to the belief in that thing, as well as the work necessary to accomplish what you set out to do.

I think the best way to sum this all up, to fully understand what this 100% commitment looks like, is found in Deuteronomy 6:5 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and will all your strength.  In one article I read, this verse was referred to as the “All Command.”  I like that.  It is a perfect picture of what it take to live 100% committed and to love with all your heart.  Loving with all your heart is a reference to where this all starts – inside.  If we are fully going to commit to something, we have to fully trust it.  We have to believe without any reservation in that which we are committing.  Loving God with all our heart is to believe in what He says, what He has done, and what He promises.  Placing our full trust in Him.  We can’t say that we love God with all our Heart unless we have committed our lives and entrusted our soul to Him.  That leads to the next part – loving Him with all our soul.  In the old testament, the soul was a reference to the body.  The complete self.  Loving God with all our soul means that our body is fully committed to him.  All of us.  So what is on the inside is what others see on the outside.  Too often, what is on the outside is not a reflection of what is truly happening on the inside.  We have a tendency to be masters at “appearance”.  If we fully commit to God on the inside, it is only natural that our outside will be a reflection of that commitment.  Finally, loving Him with all our strength.  I think this is the perfect picture of loving God with all that we have (and all that we can do).  I enjoy working out.  Those that have seen me, may not realize it, but I do enjoy it.  I relate “all my strength” to performing an exercise and having to summon all the muscle groups I can to perform a certain lift or movement.  Loving God with all my strength means that I will do all that I can in service for Him.  I will give all that I have – my time, my money, my family, everything I have for His glory.  It is often described as the greatest act of love – to give your life for someone else.  That is exactly what loving God with all my strength should look like.  Giving Him all that I have to give.

God is a jealous God.  He deserves and has every right to be that way, but we still like to look at Him and decide what he deserves.  Today, and forever more, I want to be all in, and I commit to him my heart, soul and strength – my all.

A life worthy of persecution

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Chinese government authorities have begun pressuring house churches to register with the government and join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Officials have approached key leaders of many house church networks in recent weeks and delivered an ultimatum: Register with the TSPM within the next two months, or else. House church leaders, who oppose joining the TSPM, believe their only option is to create awareness of their situation and ask Christians around the world to pray for them. (Taken from icommittopray.com).

Have I ever been in this position?  No.  I live in the United States.  I have complete religious freedom.  I can stand on my street corner and shout (so long as it’s not to the point of disturbing the peace) the praises of my Lord Jesus Christ.  On a trip to Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago, I witnessed a man standing outside the gates of the White House, proclaiming through a bull horn, his distaste for what was currently going on in our country.  We are free.  There is no question about it.  In the past few weeks, my church youth ministry has been focused on the persecuted church.  We have read countless stories, watched videos and learned about what it’s like to be persecuted.  In some countries, it’s atrocious.   People are dying, everyday, because they profess their faith in Jesus Christ.  Dying.  Everyday.  According to a study by the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), over 90,000 Christians were killed in 2016 for their faith.  That’s 1 person every 6 minutes, that lost their life for simply publicly living for Christ.  It doesn’t say what they were doing, specifically.  Some may have been leaders, spreading the gospel message.  Many were simply converts, that refused to renounce their new faith.  Again, I have never faced this.  In fact, I couldn’t recall a time when I faced any form of persecution for my faith, and that disturbed me.

In the past few months, I have found my world challenged.  I don’t feel comfortable anymore just sitting idly by and not doing anything with my faith.  It’s not enough to attend the regular meetings at church, participate in outings, and be a “facebook Christian.”  I blame…rather give credit to God.  I prayed, one night, a couple of months ago and asked God to give me the strength and the courage to give all of me to Him. Everything.  Move me where you want me.  Give me the thoughts you want me to have so I can do what you created me to do.  It was a scary prayer, and the excitement and fear that I have felt since then, prove that God will use you and move you if you are willing to give him control.  But last night, I just thought about that question – have I ever been persecuted for my faith?  I couldn’t say that I had.  So why does that disturb me?  It’s simple.  Jesus explains that anyone who follows Him…I mean really follows Him will face the same treatment He faced.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matt. 5:10-11).  Jesus says we are blessed when we face persecution.  Why?  We are blessed because of the key part of that verse, we are living for Him.  We are living out our faith.  We are living a life of righteousness.  In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12).  So, again, I ask the question, why am I disturbed and downcast because I haven’t felt persecuted?  It’s a simple answer, and one that I am ashamed to admit.  I haven’t been living a life worthy of Christ.  My faith hasn’t been radiant to those around me.  God’s word promises that when we live a life for Christ.  When we are out there – we will be persecuted.  Does that mean that I will have to give my life?  Probably not in this country.  That adds a whole new round of guilt and shame.  I live in a country where the worst I have to be afraid of is someone not liking me, or someone talking about me because of my faith.  Yet, I hide it.  There are people in this world that are dying, horrible deaths, because they utter the words, “I believe in Jesus.”  Yet, here I am, with no fear of physical pain or death, and I don’t say a word.

I want to challenge, myself and anyone else that comes across this.  Be intentional.  Lay down any fears and reservations about what people may think of you and be intentional in living for Jesus Christ.  Our fear should not be of our peers perception of us, but in how Jesus sees us.  “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and int he glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).  That verse should be committed to memory and thought of often.  I have said often, I am non-confrontational.  I don’t like conflict and that bleeds over into my spiritual life and how “out there” I am.  I don’t want to upset anyone.  You may be reading this and think – if I get out there and live like that, I’ll run everyone off and that’s not what Jesus wants.  I believe that if we live as and for Christ, we won’t run everyone off.  We may challenge them, but they will be drawn to us because we are different and genuine.

Are you living a life worthy of persecution?

Lord, I have failed.  Until this point in my life, I have never even thought about living a life worthy of persecution for you.  I pray, today, that I will be bold in my faith and unashamed of your name.  Stoke the flame in my heart so that your radiance shines brightly and unmistakably.  May I live a life that leaves no doubt where my heart is.  In your name I pray, – Amen.